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Threats from outside the sector

The persistent drought and the CAP are threatening Andalusian early potatoes, and consequently, all Spanish potatoes.
Javier Boceta meijer

The Andalusian potato season will start a few weeks late owing to the cold spell in February. The damages were not significant and, in terms of volume, they will not mean any destabilisation.

It´s not the cold, but rather the water shortage that is seriously concerning the sector which, although they will get through this campaign, they are not so sure about the next one if the drought continues.

“We are worried, and with reason, about two problems that are outside the reality of our product. The drought, which clearly is here to stay, and the second point, the coming into effect of the new CAP from the beginning of the year,” Javier Boceta, Manager of Meijer in Spain, explains.

A decade ago, the sector overcame its own problems (replacing French warehouse potatoes with Spanish ones on the supermarket shelves), but today it is facing up to others that it has no control over. “We have done our homework: production has gone hand in hand with the supermarket chains and consumers know how to appreciate Spanish produce; however, our uncertainties are not related to the potato business itself.”

Double uncertainty

Potatoes, which have never lived off the CAP, today are being subjected to it and to its plant protection restriction policies that make it unfeasible to fight against some pests. “The products that currently exist are no longer permitted, as is the case of the insecticide that fights against wireworms. Chronologically, different substances have been banned for us, ranging from lindane, forato to methyl-chlorpyrifos. The only technique left to us is to spend around 400 euros in diesel and turn the soil over so that the larvae dehydrate and die. I still have my doubts as to whether this method is environmentally sustainable and, above all, effective,” Boceta comments.

The executive is very certain that the types of policies coming directly from Brussels are seriously damaging Spain, as well as France and Holland: “We don’t need any aid from Brussels. A crop that costs around 12,000 euros per hectare does not need a handout of 300; rather it needs to be allowed to be competitive. It is absurd to ban plant protection products that are used in the rest of the world and then we eat potatoes treated with them; and to make matters worse, as producers we spend three times the amount of money on other agronomical techniques, and we continue contaminating with fossil fuels such as diesel.”

And, he continues, “if the products that the Egyptians or Moroccans use were so dangerous, the European chains and the health authorities should not allow them to be sold. I don’t think that you can affirm that a Moroccan or Egyptian potato is less healthy than a Spanish one. With the policies from Brussels, the only obvious factor is that we are destroying European agriculture.”

The current campaign

As a result of the abovementioned problems, Andalusia is experiencing a decrease in planted surface area that is yet to be quantified, but that could be around 6% compared to the previous campaign. The first signs indicate that the season will develop favourably, as the productions are not high and the quality of the product is correct, added to which is a general shortage of potatoes all over Europe.

However, the most risky challenge for the current season involves the management of the harvesting times, given that the entire harvest, which will be delayed by around three weeks, could all come at once at the end of May and June. “Today the offer is structured and we can handle the volumes without the prices plummeting. On this point, we are aware that it could be a difficult campaign, but we are getting ready for it, both in our warehouses and in our transport.”

The disturbing point of the campaign is the strong competition from third countries, specifically Egypt, which has managed to oust the Andalusian exports to Germany. Its great productive potential could change the current commercial ‘status quo’ of European potatoes. “As an example, it is worth mentioning that in southern Egypt there are farms of 6,000 hectares where the harvest could reach 240 million kilos, all destined for the European markets and Russia.

In this context, favoured by the Chlorprofam restrictions on French warehouse potatoes, new markets such as the Spanish home market have had to be sought by the Andalusian potato sector.

Restriction in the use of nitrogen

“The worst is yet to come”, the executive from Meijer explains. “When they restrict our use of nitrogen, as has already occurred in Holland, the cost of the produce will be so high that it will not be profitable to produce and we will lose our competitiveness and the markets. It is time to stand up to Europe.”

“In Europe, they do not know how the time to market new products work; they legislate without knowing about the situation in the fields first hand. For example, Meijer has varieties with minimum nitrogen consumptions, but introducing a new product on the market can take a minimum of around seven years,” Boceta affirms.

In the same vein, it seems logical to think that, faced with the shortage of nitrogen, the farmers themselves will make the most rational use of it possible.


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